Review: Haweswater By Sarah Hall Essay, Research Paper
Village of the dammedHaweswaterby Sarah Hall
256pp, FaberFirst impression: here is a new writer of show-stopping genius; everyone should buy this novel. Second impression: unremitting melancholy. No contradiction or criticism intended – there are many brilliant books that leave one face down, weeping on the bed.Haweswater, set in the 1930s, describes the calculated dispossession of a community of Cumbrian tenant hill-farmers, making way for a reservoir that will swallow their ancient rural valley in order to succour modern urban thirst. From the moment the man from Manchester arrives in his flash car down the barely travelled road, it is clear there is nothing to be done. Already, in some cool metropolitan boardroom, the man-made deluge has been rubber-stamped – it is cruel, inevitable, righteous, much like the Bible’s archetypal flood.The rise of tragedy in the book echoes the incremental rise of water, more powerful than one can imagine. The seemingly indestructible valley community disintegrates in months, its fabric quickly and quietly rotting away as if already brutally submerged. This is the death of history: timelines rubbed out, the graveyard uprooted. A new mountain humps between its heather-coated sisters, its concrete face swarmed over by sickly hollow-bellied victims of economic depression. The army uses the emptying village as target practice. At the heart of the story is the Lightburn family. With accurate empathy and gorgeous language, Hall depicts the grim, biblical mother, who scares herself by cursing God in childbirth, and the softly stoic father, who has to grow so many hearts to hold his sorrows. Their two extraordinary children – a fiery, phoenix-like daughter and a watery, fish-like son – are both destined to share the valley’s fate and so redeem it: she is the root of the mountain, the explosive heat beneath its crust; he will swim where the eagles once cruised, at terrifying heights in flimsy air. There’s not a lot to tell you about the author, because she has not been around that long. Hall was born in Cumbria in 1974, studied creative writing at St Andrews and now lives in North Carolina. It is easier to predict her future: she will be back with more and better. For now, I stand by my original impressions. Go forth and buy; prepare to weep.